Gun-toting youths roam Jammu and Kashmir streets

SRINAGAR: Young men, who recently joined terror outfits after being disillusioned with the state machinery, are said to be roaming openly in Shopian district of south Kashmir, posing a tricky situation for security forces who have to be extremely cautious in dealing with them given the local support that they enjoy.

A top police official told Mumbai Mirror on the condition of anonymity that these militants were moving around freely in Shopian, Kulgam, Pulwama and parts of Awantipora.

Mirror has also accessed video footage and photos, which show a large number of AK 47-toting youths at an orchard in Shopian.

Highly placed sources said that these youths have aligned with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahiddin. “The main advantage that these militants enjoy is the civilian support in areas of south Kashmir. The local residents offer them food and shelter. The increasing incidents of stone-pelting and protests near encounter sites over the past year prove the growing support for them. There have been attempts by civilians to break down the security cordon several times,” said the official.Police sources also said that the men also hold small gatherings to address the locals, urging them to “stay loyal to the movement”. In one such gathering, the residents were told to adhere to protest programmes as charted out by the Hurriyat Conference.

Since the killing of Burhan Wani in south Kashmir on July 8 last year, around 200 local youths have joined militancy, said sources.

 Jammu and Kashmir police remain tight-lipped on the issue though, only saying they were assessing the reports of missing youths.
However, a top police official did concede that the ground situation was indeed worrisome, especially in south Kashmir. “The time to take action is now. The difference between present-day militancy and that during the early 1990s is that the ideological conviction of today’s lot is far superior. These people are disillusioned by both mainstream and Hurriyat leaders and are losing hope in the system. Moreover, heightened social media activities are luring more and more youths to the terrorists’ way of life,” said the official.

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